Vale Lynne Kosky

Ms GRALEY (Narre Warren South) — On 12 December 2014 the state funeral for the Honourable Lynne Janice Kosky was held in her home town, at the Williamstown town hall, before a loving and appreciative audience. It was a poignant and elegant occasion, befitting a woman who was all class. Lynne was not showy; rather she was self disciplined and surefooted, with a self knowledge that could meet life.

The Premier and my parliamentary colleagues have spoken eloquently about Lynne’s established career and rich life. Today I am just going to offer a small personal memento of a particular occasion that I recall most fondly, which also took place at Williamstown town hall. I can assure you that it was not one of those fiery meetings of us fresh faced, rabid BSTA members rallying and voting to strike again. Rather — lights up! — it was Footscray High School’s performance of the Wizard of Oz in 1984 that floods back to me. I was there with my teaching colleagues, the year 9s and 10s — not an easy bunch to get to do anything — and the expectant audience, all with fingers and toes crossed. We had never done this before.

Dorothy was wearing her red shoes and there was Scarecrow, Tin Man and our very scared Lion — you know the characters and the actors. For this performance none of the kids had been on stage before; some had not even seen a live play. Certainly many of them were there without parents to wish them luck. They had their guardians there — social and youth workers, even a psychiatrist; as the school’s student welfare coordinator I was on first name terms with them all — and they had us.

Thankfully the Scarecrow, young Darren, got out his lines. He said, ‘A heart is not judged by how much you love but how much you are loved by others’. I recollect looking around through my tears. I could see tears welling in others’ eyes, a full house of happiness. We all loved the outstanding results, best of all the Wizard of Oz stars, who got an A for school production. Most of them had never had an A on their school reports before.

Such moments of brilliance and experiences of success do not just happen; they are not the result of luck, miracles or a change in the wind. It all began with a young woman, fresh out of a university, returning to the school she had attended in her high school years. There was no doubt she was on a mission. All those who came after her at Footscray High were going to get ahead as far as she could possibly assist them to go. Lynne Kosky walked through the door of my small office. I was the new SWC. She introduced herself as the school’s new community education officer. I did not know we were getting one and I did not know what she was supposed to do. It was a good start; we could make it all up.

I wanted to do things differently, and Lynne, a social worker, had her own ideas — no surprises there — about education and welfare. She was impressively persuasive. But it was more than just talk — she had a plan. It was in front of me, already typed up and in a big binder. She had even applied for funding. It was obvious from the outset that Lynne was onto something. It was not faddish or experimental — we had had enough of that — but was well researched, with the right intentions. She also told me about a great bloke called Jim Williamson from Sunshine High, who was already doing something similar. Her enthusiasm for the project was palpable, as it was for Jim. A lifelong passion was in the making. We did not hesitate.

We had some challenges. The kids had just burnt down part of the school — again — so change was our only option. After our first year working together, I recall the deputy principal, Miss Witcombe, saying that we had achieved more than our predecessors had in five years.

But it was never about us. The program was an alternative education format, designed to engage kids of all abilities learning in different settings both inside and outside school. Its main aim was to get our cohort to stay at school as long as we could possibly keep them under our protective and ambitious supervision. Our quest — even then a Labor priority; we checked out each other’s politics — was a quality education to open up life’s opportunities and to not drop out, miss out or mess up. Lynne had done it herself and she wanted now to do it for others.

I hope you hear in my description of this innovative education program the seeds of Lynne’s lifelong campaign for education choices. I think we gave it a title like ‘Equity and Access’, but it was really about making schools and educational settings better places so students and staff wanted to stick around.

‘Now I know I have a heart ’cause it’s breaking’, was recited with pathos by our Tom the Tin Man. At Footscray High School, Lynne and her huge plan showed us all how that aching feeling of not being able to control or stop failure could be replaced with the uplifting, heart warming feelings of success, pride and confidence.

We mostly enjoyed ourselves along the way. Our Tin Man did not get to go back to live with his parents; not every new road leads to a completely happy ending. But he did complete year 11 and he did get an apprenticeship.

Like the tens of thousands of students — I think the Minister for Education said there have been 73 000 — who have followed the new education pathways, from the first chartering of a middle years elective program and the Victorian certificate of education English B at Footscray High through to the pioneer teaching of VCAL and VET, all Victorians, across all backgrounds and beginnings, have a lot to be grateful for in that somewhat audacious, always determined reform agenda of the young woman destined to be Minister for Education.

But for me, there was a lot more than that to like about Lynne. I loved her style — Issey Miyake and that Armani suit — and her very own personal do it yourself couture. She always looked great. She was very smart, neither underplaying nor overplaying it. She understood the feeling of being left out so she worked cooperatively, empowering others and treating even her critics with respect.

When I came to this Parliament she offered me the same advice Joan Kirner had once given her. She had gotten upset at a meeting at which Joan had been spoken to badly and she wanted to tear the official apart. Joan said, ‘Treat people well on the way up, for in this business you’re sure to meet them on the way down’.

Over a cuppa last year, when collecting a piece of the unique jewellery Lynne had made for me, I asked her what support she needed — anything. She relayed to me that she was surrounded by all she needed, all she loved. Jim, Hana and Jackson did an amazing job in caring for her. She had her plans for times ahead — no complaints, just things to do. It was so like Lynne. With typical kindness she confessed to me that she thought I could have been given more support when I was ill. I assured her that, just like her, I had had all I needed and reminded her of the lovely card I received from Lynne featuring her painting and a special message. She was good at so many things.

When I left Footscray High to start my family, for all sorts of reasons I knew I would not be going back — except for the footy. I was moving away from the western suburbs, home for three generations of my family.

I recall Lynne wishing me well but saying that she could never do it. Dorothy, played by a ripper Kylie, announced that there was no place like home, and the west was Lynne’s home. Red, white and blue, through and through.

Many of us are truly grateful for her loyalty and her giving self. Now the final curtain call, and for Lynne it all came too soon. The students joined hands to sing the encore, and the audience at Williamstown town hall stood in rapturous applause, our smiling, bright eyed community education officer amongst them. The Footscray High School performance of the Wizard of Oz at Williamstown town hall came to an end. Where did that time go? One of life’s lessons. The stuff of memories? No, it was much more than that. It was a life enhancing, life changing achievement. One of the many hallmarks, one of the many great performances, in Lynne Kosky’s accomplished life and stellar career. Much applause deserved. They sang:

Somewhere over the rainbow

Skies are blue

And the dreams that you dare to dream

Really do come true.

Lynne Kosky gave so many others the chance to follow their dreams. She passed into eternal slumber on 4 December 2014. Vale, Lynne Janice Kosky.